Archive for November 2008

November 16th, 2008

Goats!

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  • 320×480 (works on the iPhone and iPod Touch)

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November 11th, 2008

Party Like It’s 1959

Ever since we decided to buy this house, with it’s abundant lawn, I’ve been mildly obsessed with the notion of getting a push-mower. The push-mower is not a highly-regarded tool. Those who had to use them in the past, such as my parents, describe them in a manner normally reserved for receiving unmedicated dental drilling.

You always hear that:

  1. Push-mowers are hard to push.
  2. Push-mowers take forever to mow with.
  3. Push-mowers are hard to push.
  4. Push-mowers are really heavy.
  5. Push-mowers are really hard to push.

My reasons for wanting one, however, were carefully considered and diverse:

  1. Push-mowers may be hard to push, but I work a desk job all day and could use the exercise.
  2. Push-mowers may take a little more time to mow with, but our lot is only a quarter-of-an-acre in size anyway.
  3. Push-mowers don’t pollute.
  4. Push-mowers don’t require gasoline. (Ok, gas has come down in price, and the amount of gas I’d use when I mow is insignificant compared to what I use running errands in my car every few weeks, but I’m going to default to: every little bit helps!)
  5. Gas-mowers are not something that I’m terribly familiar with. Growing up, our yard consisted of trees, pinestraw, and dirt. Every few years, usually in the fall, Dad wouldn’t feel like raking. On those occasions he would ask me to get out his aging gas-mower — which he owned because he had previously maintained a grass-covered backyard in Michigan — and run it directly over the sticks and leaves on the ground. This was always a foreign and somewhat frightening experience for me.
  6. Gas-mowers are always breaking down. For a probable explanation as to why I’ve seen a lot of this, reread the last two sentences of the point above. Though I don’t think it was just that gas-mower. Consider all the times you’ve seen someone pull and pull and pull that start cord, then finally plop down on a log, winded and sweat-drenched, while the dead motor continues to sit there defiantly. Granted I’ve had limited exposure, but I see the two-stroke engine as a poorly-conceived system: too simple to run cleanly, quietly, or reliably, but not simple enough that problems can be diagnosed and repaired with enough daylight left to actually do your mowing (or chainsawing or weed-wacking).
  7. Push-mowers are odd. As 99.9% of the population doesn’t bother with it anymore, push-mowing is the kind of thing that fringe weirdos seem to get into, exclusively so they can talk your ear off about it when they get you cornered at parties. In other words: I am the ideal candidate for it. “There is room for push-mowing in my life,” I thought. “Right between bike-commuting and homebrewing.”

So before we moved into our house I googled “push mowing” and found several “fan-sites” where people defensively rant about the benefits of using them.

Here, in a nutshell, is what they all say :

  1. Push-mowers are no harder to push than your average gas-mower.
  2. Push-mowers don’t pollute.
  3. Push-mowers have two screws. These make important adjustments. You must set them properly.
  4. Push-mowers are quiet as a mouse.
  5. Push-mowers “clip” instead of “tear,” so it’s better for your grass than a gas-mower.
  6. Push-mowers must be used often. You must get to the grass before the it gets high.
  7. Push-mowers are hard to push, but you could use the exercise, right?
  8. Push-mowers have made great strides in the past 40 years. Don’t believe old people, such as your parents, when they tell you that push-mowing sucks. All they know is the old models they grew up with.
  9. Push-mow now, or you are the spawn of Satan.

Well, I was probably days from giving in to the hype and ordering a push-mower, when I mentioned wanting one to Steph’s grandma. She offered to let me borrow one that had belonged to Steph’s granddad.

Steph’s granddad cared deeply about his tools. He kept them organized and in mint-condition, right up until he passed away a few years ago. Those tools are now objects of reverence to just about everyone who knew him. “There’s two out in the shed with the riding mower. Go take a look at them, and if you think one of them will work, you can take it home with you.”

I’ve been hanging around during major holidays for almost 10 years now; I’ve met every great aunt, great uncle, and distant cousin spread across this state; I married one their own, but never have I felt more like a member of the family than when I heard those words.

So this weekend I finally used the lent-out heirloom and did our entire yard:

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My thoughts:

  1. Push-mowers, even this old cast-iron type, are elegantly-designed machines. There are absolutely no extraneous steps between the person operating them and the desired result.
  2. Push-mowers are not for people with a yard much bigger than mine.
  3. Push-mowers are not exactly quiet. When you push-mow, the spinning/clipping mechanism makes a formidable racket. It’s not as loud as a gas-mower, but probably not as muted as you’d think.
  4. Push-mowers produce repeating explosions of grass clippings when they’re running. These are fun to watch. In fact, those flying clippings are the only thing that will sustain you when you’re halfway through the yard and wondering what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into.
  5. Push-mowing might occasionally make you stop and wonder what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into. If you just keep at it, before you know it you’ll have it all done.
  6. Push-mowing requires you to have a comeback on the ready for all the neighbors who want to tease you about doing it. “It’s cheaper than a gym membership!” is what I say. This one is mine. You may not use it.
  7. Push-mowers offer a daunting amount of resistance when stopped or moving slowly. If you give that initial push your all, the weight and gearing seem to take over some of the propulsion. From there it’s sort of like pushing a hand truck loaded up with boxes — a hand truck loaded up with boxes that you want to get onto the moving truck without ever slowing down.
  8. Push-mowing itself doesn’t take any longer than gas-mowing, but it will take you longer to push-mow because you have to rake the area you want to mow before hand. Even a small twig can get between the blades and bring the mower to an unwelcomed halt. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does you have to back the mower up, or, failing that, flip it over and pull the stick out. Then you have to give it that grunt-inducing “starting-push” again. Either way these sudden obstructions are total buzz-kills. The more you can prevent, the better.
  9. Gas-mowing will occassionally still be necessary, even if you wish to convert completely to push-mowing. When we first moved into our house, for example, it was the middle of the summer and the grass probably hadn’t been touched in six weeks. I proudly gave the push-mower a firm jolt onto the lawn, it immediately locked up, and the momentum almost sent me over the handlebar. Push-mowers don’t work on tall grass. (Thus the “mow often” advice.) Another time to dust off or borrow that gas-mower would be when you really need to mow, but it’s really hot outside. If you wouldn’t play a lengthy, spirited game of soccer in the conditions outdoors, you won’t want to push-mow.
  10. Push-mowers cut the grass pretty short. I’ve mowed the lawn a few times since we’ve been in the house, but always with a gas-mower I got off Kevslist1 . To avoid having to do a lot of extra fertilizing, aerating, etc., you should keep your grass at about three inches in height. I decided to take the push-mower for a spin this weekend and cut the grass short ’cause I’m hoping it’s the last time I’ll have to mow until next spring.
  11. Push-mowing or not, when did I become one of these old men that possess this kind of knowledge about lawncare? Yeesh.

I think I might be hooked on push-mowing. I’m now eyeing a newer model that claims to be lighter-weight and able to cut at the three-inch mark. I’m thankful for the introduction my current, sacred push-mower has given me though, and once I’m done using it, I’ll be sure to put it right back where it was.

1 Which is actually Craigslist, but with the added convenience of your brother Kevin finding the item for you, purchasing it, and delivering it to you before you knew you even wanted it.

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November 6th, 2008

My Fellow Americans…

it’s a few days after the big event now and I know what’s on everyone’s mind: “How was the beer you made?”

Pretty darn good, friends.

Because Jerry and I served it at the absolute earliest point when it was ok to do so, it was on the bitter side. We had to stop in at the homebrew store the morning of the party to have Jerry’s keg looked at, and one of the employees tried it and told us that in a few weeks it would “mellow out.” (I’m not sure what a guy who can sip on a sizable glass of bitter beer at 10 in the morning without so much as flinching’s definition of “mellow” is, but I find this encouraging.) The flavors of the spices and roasted pumpkin (that we steeped rather than actually added) were pretty subdued, which does seem like a sophisticated and desirable result, but you’re also dealing with a guy who uses a garden trowel to add nutmeg to his hot cider. The way I see it, we basically have a Pale Ale on our hands. Pale Ale is a type of beer people either love or they hate. I’m on team “love”; whether it “mellows” or not, you won’t hear me complaining.

The five gallons in the keg disappeared during the party, meaning at least some folks came back for seconds and thirds.

But now, let’s move on to the foreign exchange students that showed up at the party.

Last week, our friend May, who is in grad school, mentioned to a classmate from Japan that she was attending our Halloween party over the coming weekend. That classmate took this as an invitation to the party and later in the week shared with our friend that she had bought her first ever Halloween costume (as they do not have Halloween in Japan) and was very excited to be attending her first Halloween party. In addition, she asked if she could bring a friend who was also here from Japan and two friends who were here from China, as they now had costumes and had never been to Halloween parties either…. There’s no way I could have set that record straight and uninvited these people? Could you?

May called Steph to fill us in on the situation and make sure it was ok and, sure enough, well ahead of May, dressed in the exact costumes that foreign TV and advertising probably shows everyone in the US wearing on Halloween, they arrived.

And the pumpkin, the princess, Dracula, and the killer from Scream were ready to do this Halloween thing right. After entering our house and shakily making introductions to a few of us, they seemed to loosen up and their cameras came out and the questions started flying. (Incidentally, can you formulate, without flipping over to Wikipedia, a rational answer as to why we celebrate Halloween? One of the guys asked me this question and I believe my response went something like “Would you care for another beer? I made it, you know.”)

Steph assembled some impromptu treat bags for the four of them, with candy and various Halloween party favors. They found this extremely exciting. I think they were also fascinated that we had all just chosen whatever we wanted as costumes — that some outfits were scary and some were funny and some were just plain irreverent. There was no aesthetic or theme holding everything together, which, when you think about it, is a little strange. This is not to say they weren’t over the moon everytime they saw someone dressed up as something they recognized. I think the biggest response was elicited by Thurston’s Mario costume or that of our friend Megan who, with no prior knowledge of our of Asian guests, came dressed as a panda.

I don’t think they would have had the time they did if so many of the people we know weren’t so damned inclusive. Steph and I both are both highly sensitive to situations where someone could feel left out — probably because, at numerous points in past, that someone was us — and we both tend to go out of our way to try and make “outsiders” feel welcome. I knew we couldn’t attend to our foreign guests and play hosts at the same time, and I felt torn about what to focus on for a brief moment, before I realized the exchange students were already engaged in lively conversations and photo shoots and candy-eating sessions.

If you ever decide to go out on a limb and attend an event that is completely ingrained in an unfamiliar culture, pray it’s with a group like our friends.

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